Thursday, March 29, 2007
Eyewitness: A Baghdad bomb site

The aftermath of the blast

CNN's Cal Perry writes about his experience filming the site of a suicide bombing in Baghdad, minutes after the blast.

"In my imagination, standing in the room, I'm reenacting the bomber's morning. In my head, the man kisses his family goodbye, calmly gets into his car and possibly drives to work -- maybe to meet his contact inside this place, passing through various checkpoints. Perhaps he drove past Iraqi police, Iraqi militiamen, U.S. military patrols. Who knows? In my mind, he says a quick prayer, walks through the front door and tries to assassinate a high-ranking member of the Iraqi government -- willing to kill himself."

You can read his account here.
Wednesday, March 28, 2007
Asking questions gets you noticed

A minder shadows me as I chat to the director of the Nubian Museum.

The most innocuous of inquiries, the most aboveboard of assignments pique the interest of security agencies across the Middle East.

In Egypt, television journalists know this all too well. I experienced it once again, first hand, while filming this month's edition of Inside the Middle East.

Since first traveling to Upper Egypt in 1991, I'd always been curious about the ancient Nubian community. Distinct in their traditional dialect and ethnicity, the Nubians, who once ruled over the rich and lush land on the banks of the Nile, have become exiles of sorts in their own country.

A series of floods from the construction of dams on the mighty Nile displaced up to a million Nubians over the last generation. The government relocated many of them in the early '60s, sometimes deep into the desert, far from their ancestral homeland. Their Nile culture has drowned under the water of the river that made their glory for a period thousands of years ago.

We spoke to an old man who remembered what life was like in Nubian villages before the floods. In the open-air patio of a government-provided home, he energetically showed me deeds of his family property and spoke of the difficulty of adjusting to a more urban lifestyle.

"The children," he said remembering his days as a school principal, "don't draw colorful pictures anymore. Not the way they used to."

His wife, sitting on a wooden bench behind him, nodded "no" when I asked if all Nubians had been compensated fairly for the homes they were forced to abandon.

I interview a Nubian tribal leader

Then, the old man started changing his story. Life for Nubians was actually wonderful, he said with verve; they had all been given a fair swap for their property. The schools, he added, were top-notch.

It wasn't making sense; and then, I knew.

I turned around and saw a government minder taking notes. Leaning against a wall, behind the camera, the young man Egyptian authorities had "assigned" to our television crew was busy writing away.

I asked a few more questions and ended the interview. It was pointless to go on. The old man did not want to appear overly critical of the authorities. In Egypt, as in many countries in the Middle East, that can get you in trouble.

Later, I took the minder aside:

"Why are you taking notes?" I asked.

"Does it bother you?" he replied, smiling.

I wasn't smiling.

"Yes, actually, it does."

His expression turned serious. He reached into his pocket and pulled out an official ID card.

"Look," he says pointing to his picture, thinking I was questioning his credentials, rather than complaining that his presence was a nuisance.

The following day, a man who'd helped us on the ground in Aswan was called in to a local police station for questioning. We immediately called the police chief and dictated our shooting permit numbers over the phone, finally convincing the authorities that our contact had nothing to hide.

Add to that the checkpoints and the questions from soldiers calling their superiors. During this trip, I would hear fragments of conversations from the window of our van.

"Americans ... Tourism ... Yes sir."

This isn’t unusual in Egypt or anywhere else in the Middle East. Sometimes, information ministries don’t impose minders, but when they do, the "escorts" are simply following orders. In the end, I even warmed to the young man assigned to us in Upper Egypt. Young, shy, with a pencil mustache and a soft smile, he was easy to like. Others have been more intrusive and more aggressive.

In the end, we get around them. When conducting interviews, we make sure they're out of earshot. When alone, we spend that time speaking to ordinary people on the street. For more sensitive stories, we shoot interviews in hotels. In other words, we can report accurately and fairly, but the presence of minders is a constant reminder that we are being watched and that our presence is deemed a threat.

In Egypt a few weeks ago, 22-year-old blogger Abdel Kareem Nabil was imprisoned for four years for criticizing President Hosni Moubarak and "insulting Islam." All the while, opposition politicians complain proposed constitutional changes will further choke the democratic process in Egypt.

Dissenting voices are not easily tolerated within one of America's strongest allies in the Arab world.

In the Middle East, asking questions gets you noticed.

-- From Hala Gorani, CNN International Anchor
Tuesday, March 27, 2007
In a Lather
Is there a word for fear of showers? CNN International Anchor Richard Quest is developing a phobia of them after a quick shower in an airport executive lounge became an hour-long ordeal.

"With the dressing room door gone, I was left in the shower cubicle, behind the glass, with no cover and a room rapidly filling up with strangers. They couldn’t even pass me a towel because the glass was floor to ceiling. Oh, the embarrassment."

You can read his full acount here.
Monday, March 26, 2007
Cairo Spring Revisited
CNN's Ben Wedeman has filed a piece from Cairo examining how the door to democracy in Egypt appears to be closing, despite the democratic movement's passion and determination.

"The movement is being worn down, caught between the regime's determination to stay in power and the conviction of many ordinary, impoverished Egyptians that democracy is a luxury that will have to wait."

You can read his report here.
Friday, March 23, 2007
Crowds go Crazy for Knut

Knut's path to stardom was anything but smooth.

Was there ever so much fuss made over a creature so small? I'm talking of course about Knut, the three-and-a-half-month polar bear cub who's just made his media debut at the Berlin Zoo.

We arrived with more than half an hour to spare and already the brown bear enclosure was ringed by cameras, satellite trucks and journalists by the hundred. And scampering like monkeys over the climbing frame behind me -- their only chance of a glimpse of Knut -- scores of school-children chanting: "We want Knut! we want Knut!"

Bang on 10.15 a.m., just as the zoo had promised, there he was. A flash of white fluff in the distance. The crowd heaved a collective "Aaah." Into the enclosure walked Thomas Doerflein, the keeper who's spent the last three-and-a-half months looking after Knut. And padding devotedly in his footsteps, Knut himself -- white, fluffy and impossibly cute.

Knut's path to stardom was anything but smooth. His mother, Tosca, was once a performing bear in the former East Germany's state circus. Now one of five polar bears at the Berlin Zoo, she rejected Knut and his brother at birth and left them on a rock to die. The zoo took action and decided to raise the cubs by hand, though Knut was the only one to survive.

Knut's daily diet is a mixture of milk and chicken puree. Bath-time involves hand-washing and a healthy dose of baby oil rubbed all over to moisturise the skin. Knut has his own long-eared teddy bear, goes to sleep each night under photographs of his parents and has a particular penchant for ripping up newspapers. His keeper, Thomas Dorflein, sleeps in the same room and sometimes plays him Elvis songs on his guitar. Spoilt he may be, but Knut obviously adores Dorflein. In the hour and a half we had to see him, Knut never strayed far from his keeper and stopped often for a cuddle and to lick his hands and face.

Animal rights campaigners were quoted this week as saying it was wrong to treat a bear like a baby. One even called for Knut to be killed, though he later retracted his comments. Andre Schuele, the vet at the Berlin Zoo, disagrees. Knut will gradually be weaned off his keeper, he says, and it'll only be a matter of months before he prefers the company of bears to humans. And in a year or two, he added, Knut will be introduced to a nice young female and will make lots of small Knuts.

That's still some way off. For the time being, you can be guaranteed that children will take the place of the cameras around Knut's enclosure. And though they won't be able to give him a cuddle, there's plenty of Knut merchandise on sale that they can take home with them instead. I know I did.

You can watch my report here.

-- From Diana Magnay, CNN International Producer
Fleeing Zimbabwe
What would you take if you had to pack your entire life into a single suitcase and run?

Justice Michael Majuru had to make that decision when he fled Zimbabwe four years ago.

Sitting in his modest apartment in Pretoria, South Africa, he is searching for some mementos of the home he left behind to help me illustrate my report. There's not much, just his Zimbabwean passport and the suitcase he shared with his wife. He's apologetic about not finding any photographs because he had to pack in such a hurry.

Michael Majuru is one of the three-and-a-half-million Zimbabwean exiles in South Africa. Back in 2003 he was a judge living comfortably in Zimbabwe. Then he was asked to preside over the court case of The Daily News. The newspaper had been closed down for refusing to apply for a license. Justice Majuru heard the case and ruled that the independent newspaper that regularly irritated President Mugabe's government should be allowed to re-open.

The government was furious. Majuru told me that was when Zimbabwe's intelligence service started to harass him. When he heard reports that he might be arrested the judge went to the South African Embassy -– a day later he and most of his family had visas so they could go into exile in South Africa.

The minister who Majuru alleges pressurized him to prevent the Daily News from reopening and threatened that he would be arrested is Zimbabwe’s Minister of Justice Patrick Chinamasa. I called him from South Africa as I wanted to include the Zimbabwean government’s perspective in my story. The minister said he would talk to me later but he never seemed to pick up his phone. Finally I resorted to texting and much to my surprise I got this message back ...


Then he sent me this text:

Meanwhile Michael Majuru is studying for a masters degree in Human Rights Law, and he tells me he has no regrets about standing up to the Zimbabwean government. "I didn't believe that I did anything wrong and if the same situation were to arise I would do precisely the same thing again, it was worth it."

-- From Femi Oke, CNN Johannesburg Bureau
Somaly and Srey: An Update

Child prostitution is a problem all around the world

Sometimes this job makes you mad, sometimes it makes you happy, you have good days, hard days, hot days, hectic days. But however stressful, tiring or elating assignments get, there is one reason that keeps me coming back for more: The people we meet.

Somaly Mam is one person that is humbling, courageous and exudes an inner strength and warmth that is contagious. She was forced into prostitution in Cambodia when she was just 12, and endured horrific ordeals at the hands of the sex tourists and home grown brothel clients, even seeing her best friend shot dead in front of her.

Finally she escaped, but couldn’t forget the children she’d seen, held as sex slaves. She decided to set up her own charity rescuing them and so far more than 150 have been brought out of the darkness into her refuge.

One in particular has touched her heart -- six-year-old Srey.

She was sold by her mother to a brothel on the border with Thailand. Somaly worked with the police, and after a raid, took care of little Srey. Srey is timid, quiet and damaged. She is very ill: HIV positive, suffering from tuberculosis and pneumonia.

Somaly says Srey talks of being raped in the past. I look into this little face and try to imagine the horror those large brown eyes have seen. We have dilemmas about filming with her. But Somaly is reassured: We filmed with Srey a couple of months ago, as sensitively and gently as we could.

Our report generated a huge response last time and it’s encouraging to see Srey has gained a little weight and seems much healthier than before.

We’ve come back to find out how she’s doing, to find out more about her story and to highlight this awful issue for Anderson Cooper, who is anchoring the 360 program from Phnom Penh.

We play with Srey and the other children, and when we feel Srey is relaxed we gradually introduce the camera. Somaly reads a story and Srey seems oblivious to my cameraman and sound recordist.

Somaly knows Srey is a potent symbol -- it’s difficult to imagine a more innocent, vulnerable victim of Cambodia’s sex trade. We’re careful never to show Srey’s face. Srey only speaks Khmer and so is unaware what we are talking about.

I still feel uneasy, but Somaly is adamant that the world must know about children like Srey. It’s estimated by the charities that work in Cambodia that perhaps 30 percent of people working in the sex trade are children. The Cambodia women’s affairs ministry puts the figure at 40 percent.

With a sex industry comprising of 80,000 to 100,000 people, that means that perhaps between 24,000 and 40,000 under-16-year-olds are having their childhood stolen in the most horrendous ways. And that’s just in Cambodia -- child prostitution is a problem all over the world.

We finish and give high fives to Srey, who then comes to the door to wave goodbye. She's heading back to the refuge now, as the sun smears the Cambodian sky butter yellow.

As we drive back to our hotel, we pass the red-light district where the first girls are beginning to appear for another night on the streets. I wonder how many other young children like Srey are being offered for sale tonight and how long Srey will survive before the onslaught of AIDS will claim that fragile little child.

-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent
Thursday, March 22, 2007
Growing up Gay in India

My colorful introduction to India's gay community

I'm waiting at the live shot position here with the World News Asia team in CP in Central Delhi. I'm glad I've got the chance to chat with Anjali after the "Growing Up Gay" piece runs because it brings up so many interesting issues.

Setting up this story has been incredibly difficult. We set out to survey the challenges and unique perspective that gays and lesbians in India face. Being gay in India can get one thrown into jail in this country because of a section of the Indian Penal Code (Section 377) which criminalizes same-sex relationships.

The law, drafted in the 1860s when the British were still ruling the subcontinent of India, states:

"Whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature ... shall be punished with imprisonment ... and shall also be liable to fine."

Not only is there a law against it -- but there is a such a social stigma that goes along with being gay in India that there is a reluctance to talk about the issue openly.

It took many weeks to find people who were willing to go on-camera to talk. Those that chose to felt it was important to help us try to understand a world which is largely hidden from view.

Gautam Bahn, an activist and author I interviewed, mentioned that it is almost a bigger deal to be unmarried in India than it is to be gay. He underlines the incredible societal pressure that many young Indians feel to get married.

"Marriage is seen as an eventuality, not as a possibilty," Mario D'Penha a 25-year-old gay Indian tells me.

It was the night that I interviewed a guy who asked me to call him "Shankey" that I found to be one of the most interesting. He's married to a woman and they have three kids together. He says he regularly has sex with other men. He felt compelled to talk with us because he says there are so many Indian men like him.

It was sad to think of this guy's wife at home wondering where he was -- having no idea that he was talking with CNN about being gay. I worried about the health and safety of his wife as well.

"Shankey" painted a picture of a rather promiscuous life of sex in public parks with other men who may be returning to their wives and families.

Of course, there's no way of knowing how many men there are or even how typical this behavior may be. But, for this one guy, I worried about his wife -- on top of feeling bad that he had to live a double life.

One of the issues I didn't get to cover in our piece was the difficulty that HIV/AIDS prevention groups have in targeting messages to gay groups. In a country where such relationships are illegal, very few messages are geared toward gays and lesbians. Some of the lesser-educated guys I spoke with told me that there are some here that don't know about the potential risks involved.

There are incredible social divisions among the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community here. Even the term "gay" can be considered to apply only to an educated, English-speaking, wealthier class here.

Author Gautam Bhan says: "Caste and religion and class are all identities that are acceptable. They're traditional. A sexual identity is very disconcerting to Indian society."

"A lot of gay men use marriage to be free. A guy can literally wear a tiara and a ballgown and walk down holding another man's hand. But if someone asks you, and you say: 'Oh no, I have a wife,' you're done, it's clear, you can do whatever you want."

There are also social divisions within the Indian gay community. Among the predominantly Hindi-speaking community, some men identify as being "kothis," a sort of feminized male identity, Bhan writes in his book. Hijras are another sub-set of gay life. "Hijras include men who go in for hormonal treatment, those who undergo sex-change operations and those who are born as hermaphrodites," Bhan writes. Many are simply referred to as "MSM" or men who have sex with other men.

Bhan says young women are often those most willing to hear his story:

"When we as activists will go to a college and talk about sexuality, the first people to understand us are single young women -- always. Because they, living in a city like Delhi, know exactly what it means not to have sexual freedom. to feel watched all the time, to feel like their sexuality is controlled or policed, to reel like they have to hide or lie about what they do -- and they instantly get it."

Over the past 10 years, gay and lesbian lfe has emerged in pop culture. The movie "Fire," released in India in 1998, depicts a lesbian relationship. When the movie hit theaters, it sparked an outcry.

There is a budding gay life here and some in the wealthier LGBT community have gay nights at bars, groups of friends and freedoms which may not exist for poorer gays in India. This was a fascinating story to get to cover -- and I found it became dinner conversation among friends in India -- curious to hear what I was finding.

You can watch my report here

-- From Seth Doane, CNN International Correspondent
Behind the Scenes at an Arranged Marriage

Ramneeq and Preet at their wedding

Three months ago while brainstorming ideas for our "Eye on India" series that showcases special programming from India we all felt we should explore the issue of arranged marriages.

Though they have been around for centuries and most Indians still do get married this way, what struck me and producer Tess Eastment was their growing acceptance among the young.

According to some surveys, almost 92 percent of Indians between the ages of 17 and 25 approved of arranged marriages.

With such high ratings, we thought any exploration of this topic would give our audience a personal and close-up look into the lives of almost 550 million younger Indians

The challenge, though, was to quickly find a couple who had been introduced by their families, but were not yet married, so we could follow all the excitement leading up to the big day.

We got on with the task by asking for help from wedding planners, friends and family. Within 24 hours I had been introduced to 24-year-old Preet Kiran, an MBA and a former business consultant, who was getting married in a week.

I broached the subject of covering her wedding gingerly. "Do you mind?" I asked, "if we bring our camera?"

"Not at all," she replied, explaining she was very comfortable with the whole institution of an arranged marriage.

"It’s traditional because it’s decided by the family,” she explained. “But yet it’s modern because at the last moment you are given the option to decide whether yes or no."

Later that evening I spoke to Preet’s 26-year-old fiancé and businessman Ramneeq Singh. Like Preet, he too was an MBA and invited us next morning to the Sikh temple, where he was formally being introduced to Preet’s family.

Despite initially being a bit tense, he fitted in quite well. What helped further were the gifts Preet’s relatives piled on to Ramneeq. There were clothes, boxes of candy and lots of cash. No wonder younger Indians love arranged marriages, I thought. Such pampering had to be good for anyone’s ego.

As I mingled with Ramneeq I noticed he, like other younger Indians, straddled both the modern and traditional worlds.

Ramneeq drove a $40,000 car, loved music and designer clothes yet had left one of the most important decisions of his life to his family: "Your dad got married that way, your granddad and the people around you … they have all got married the same way," he rationalized. "Probably they (arranged marriages) are successful."

Statistics reveal the divorce rate in India remains under 2 percent. Sociologists say that’s because arranged marriages don’t just bring two individuals together they are also a relationship of two families which in times if crisis are forever ready to guide and provide support.

Next day I learned more of this union between families as both sides mingled and danced at a dinner hosted by Preet and her relatives. Here that I also got a glimpse into what the Indian media lovingly describes as "big, fat Indian weddings."

Huge tents had been constructed to accommodate the guests. Thousands of dollars had been spent on lighting and flower decorations. And to keep everyone happy and entertained there were mouth-watering treats and professional singers.

What was even more amazing was there were several such functions interspersed over a week of intense partying. But the best was saved for last.

One of the largest and noisiest functions at any traditional Indian wedding is called a reception for the "baraat," which means a congregation of guests from the groom’s side.

According to custom, the groom’s family dances and celebrates wildly as they arrive at the bride’s home or any other party location. In this case, Ramneeq’s family played out their role with gay abandon. Dressed in their finest and accompanied by a large band and fireworks they sang and danced the last half-mile to the club where Preet Kiran’s family had organized a reception and dinner for them.

As for the groom, he was dressed in a glittering gold-colored jacket and for maximum effect was riding a white stallion. As he alighted from his horse Preet’s brother embraced him. A group of three musicians then serenaded the guests by playing the "shehnai," a traditional and flute-like Indian instrument.

Almost on cue and looking stunning in a traditional and heavily embroidered Indian skirt called a "lehnga," Preet arrived to welcome Ramneeq. Both then exchanged huge garlands and posed for pictures.

Meanwhile, the guests tucked into 36 kinds of snacks, 42 main dishes and 22 desserts. It was all washed down with copious amounts of alcohol and 18 different types of teas.

In all, Preet’s family alone was spending almost $200,000 on the wedding, which still hadn’t run its course.

Next morning, the couple walked around the Sikh holy book to solemnize their wedding. It was by now evident both felt comfortable in each others company, but Ramneeq told me he would always be ready for the unexpected.

“If you have known a person for years and years, marriage is just putting a stamp on your relations, but in an arranged marriage that surprise and suspense is there.”

As I wished the couple well, I paused for a moment to reflect on the past few days. For someone who had spent the last nine years covering wars, cyclones, terrorist incidents and tsunamis this story was a beautiful and refreshing change.

I had enjoyed myself and walked away with some valuable insight: For all their modern ways, education and truly global ambitions, I had learnt younger Indians remain rooted in their ancient culture and traditions.

You can watch my report here

-- From Satinder Bindra, CNN Senior International Correspondent
Wednesday, March 21, 2007
An unforgettable time in India

Director and chat show host Karan Johar

The constant blaring of car and truck horns, hoardes of people wherever you look, rainbow swathes of saris and incessant interest in what we were up to. Ah, the sensory onslaught that is India!

Although I am of Indian background, this was only my second time to the country and my first to Mumbai. Despite living in Hong Kong, among the most densely-populated places on the planet, the organized (and not-so organized) chaos of Mumbai makes Hong Kong seem like a ghost town.

My producer, camera crew and I must have stuck out a mile as we attempted to take in as much of the action as we could during our few days in Mumbai. As India’s own lala-land, it seems almost everyone is in the movie business, or is teetering on the cusp of their "big break!"

As part of CNN’s Eye On India week, which this year focuses on the country’s happening young up and comers, we were on assignment for the weekly chat show which I host, Talk Asia. We had a couple of interviews lined up which all of us were looking forward to, but you never really know how these things are going to turn out.

First up was Ekta Kapoor. As India’s leading television producer, she’s got more than 40 soap opera serials to her name, more cash than anyone could ever spend, and countless starry-eyed hopefuls clamouring for her attention.

Oh, and did I mention, she's only 31?

Ironically for someone so TV, the nocturnal Ms. Kapoor doesn’t do broadcast interviews. So when she said yes to Talk Asia with pretty much all the access we wanted, we were only too happy to work around her. Even though that meant sitting down to chat at 11 p.m.

Still, I defy anyone there to have felt even the slightest yawn coming on. She's a likeable and engaging character to begin with. The story of her rise to the top and how she stays there was a master class in how to make it. Then the tales of her workaday tantrums ... well, suffice to say, Ekta rules her 2,000 or so staff with a rod of pure iron!

Add to the interview, our time spent on set watching the beautiful people singing, dancing and scheming made for a great evening’s entertainment –- and hopefully a great Talk Asia.

After our 3.30 a.m. finish, the ensuing daylight hours started with a couple of eye drops but pretty soon, the intrepid Talk Asia team was dashing off to our next interview with Bollywood hot shot director and chat show host, Karan Johar.

As the son of one of India’s most respected film producers, the late Yash Johar, Karan might have initially had a lot to prove. Not anymore. He’s got three blockbuster movies to his directing credit and, thanks to his fabulous Rolodex, whoever he wants –- no matter how famous -- on his talk show, Koffee with Karan.

Oh, and did I mention, he’s only 34?

What better place to have a natter than at one of Mumbai’s most popular cinemas? (Outside by the popcorn and hot dogs, not in the theatre! We’re very considerate, us Talk Asia types!)

While still peppered with the impromptu musical numbers Bollywood films just can’t seem to do without, Karan’s most recent cinematic offering, Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna (tune in to Talk Asia during CNN’s Eye On India week to hear my train wreck pronunciation) tackled a prickly topic in India –- marital infidelity.

As a determined bachelor whose parents were happily wedded, Karan took a lot of flak over the film’s chosen subject. Yet because of it, he’s now seen as something of a social commentator, so marriage, poverty, even sex were all up for spirited discussion.

Things got especially lively though when I gave Karan a taste of his own medicine.

On his talk show, Karan waits till the end before springing upon his hapless guests the "rapid fire round." This involves a barrage of questions from the host, which routinely end up with the interviewees revealing sparkling gems of information they'd previously been quite happy with the public not knowing.

So, what’s in it for the victims, I hear you ask? The Koffee with Karan hamper, of course! And I had one standing by for the unsuspecting Karan, but perhaps I should have expected the generosity that pervades all aspects of Indian culture because I ended up as the proud recipient.

The thing was so huge and ostentatious, people on the plane back home were congratulating me on becoming a new wife!

It was also filled with the most wonderful stuff, which you’ll see on Talk Asia as Karan and I proceed to rip it open without even a semblance of gentility or finesse.

You can watch the interview: Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3

Aside from the going home present, I took with me fantastic memories of Mumbai and its people who couldn’t have been more accommodating or helpful. A wonderful experience and two unforgettable Talk Asias. Now that’s what I call a great business trip.

-- From Anjali Rao, CNN International Anchor
Israel's Terror Drill
Across Israel Tuesday, there were dozens of bizarre scenes combining horror with comedy.

The horror was what the two-day nationwide drill was simulating: mass rocket attacks, chemical bombings and suicide bombings in which hundreds of people are killed, many more wounded, and the country is thrown into a state of emergency.

In part the purpose of the drill was to apply lessons learned from last summer’s war with Hizballah. Then, many Israelis complained the emergency services did not respond properly to the crisis. The drill, though planned before that war, has become part of a process of self-examination in which every part of the country’s infrastructure that dealt with the war—the army, the political leadership, the police, the medical services, social services, etc.—is being examined.

In some cases the re-examination is unofficial. The official inquiries promise to ruin careers. The Winograd Commission, formed by Prime Minister Ehud Olmert to assess the conduct of the Lebanon war, may well lead to Olmert’s demise. Leaks already indicate that the findings could damn Olmert and several other senior Israeli politicians to political oblivion. And, in the rough and tumble of Israeli politics, there is already talk—and lots of it—of who will replace Olmert when he falls.

And in part the exercise was to prepare for what many fear could come: renewed war with Hizballah, intensified conflict with the Palestinians who are increasingly fed-up with what will soon be forty years of Israeli occupation, and, looming ever larger in the minds of many Israelis, the possibility of a showdown with Iran over its nuclear programme.

But back to the exercise: Thousands of police, soldiers, emergency personnel and others are participating, recreating multiple, simultaneous attacks on Israel. At a high school in Ramat Gan, a Tel Aviv suburb, I snuck away from the more than one hundred cameramen and reporters kept behind the police tape, and stood as nonchalantly as I could among dozens of army and police officers and bigwigs on hand to observe the exercise. I had a small video camera with me, and hoped to get shots no one else could. At the other edge of the crowd, I saw still photographer Alexandra Boulat, who had also snuck around. Together we helped ourselves to the brass’ coffee, buns and biscuits, and waited for the action to begin. After a half hour of speeches and presentations by various men in uniforms, we heard shark crackles coming from the other side of the school, and moments later a man in a blue jacket and a red-and-white kaffiyeh, or Arab headdress, running through the playground with an AK-47 assault rifle. He fiddled for a few moments with a black bag then ran away. Seconds later thick yellow smoke (meant to be a deadly chemical agent) filled the air, and the soldiers cum students, many lying on the ground, half-heartedly called out for help.

After a few minutes delay police in chemical suits showed up, then ambulances, then soldiers. After that a group of young men, high school students, came rushing in, some with small video cameras. They were reporters and I must say, they were the most convincing participants. They shouted and harassed the police, tried to get through police lines, and generally made a nuisance of themselves. Later still, a larger crowd of similarly young men showed up, shouting even louder. They were the parents, followed by more young men, supposed to be the angry mob.

All the while, ambulance crews were trying to take away the wounded, and real journalists were trying to extract a story from the simulated pandemonium.

Even though it was all deadly serious business, there was something light hearted about it all. Many of the participants, young men and women doing their compulsory military service, many still in their teens, simulated the dead and the dying. They had smiles on their faces, were giggling when they were supposed to be gagging. The blood was just red dye. And when the exercise was over, they arose from death, had a laugh, brushed themselves off and walked away.

-- From Ben Wedeman, CNN International Correspondent
Tuesday, March 20, 2007
Doing 'Whatever it Takes' in India

The sun came out on taping day.

Most of our viewers may have never heard of CNN-IBN, but this past weekend the global audience got an outstanding introduction.

CNN-IBN is a sister network of CNN International, and is (most weeks) the top English-language cable news channel in India. They use CNN reports to cover the world and CNN uses CNN-IBN breaking news coverage on our air from India, but never before had there been a large-scale joint production with the two networks -- until last week. We produced a show called "CNN Connects: India's Generation Next" about India's young people, more than half a billion of them under the age of 25.

The slogan of CNN-IBN is "Whatever It Takes" and their staff embodied that slogan in the way they put this show together. No effort was spared to help us book our guests, arrange for the studio audience, seek permission to use the magnificent Purana Quila location, and to light it brilliantly, hire the best equipment and operators, build the set and banners, direct the show, and edit it. When rain early in the week threatened to jeopardize our outdoor location, they quickly arranged a backup plan. But the sun came out on taping day and we knew we had a good show on our hands.

We usually don't run credits on CNN but the CNN-IBN team deserves a public mention, so I will include them here. Apologies if I have left anyone out, but if I have, send me an e-mail and we'll fix it.

-- From Steve Tuemmler, CNNI Supervising Producer
Hostage in Gaza
Every time I hear of a kidnapping in Gaza a chill goes down my spine, and in the case of Alan Johnston, the BBC’s seasoned Gaza correspondent who disappeared a week ago, the chills are going up and down my spine the whole time.

I’ve been to Gaza more times than I can count, first in 1993, and basically several dozen times ever since. As one of CNN’s Jerusalem-based correspondents, Gaza is my beat. I know almost every inch of the place and, though conditions are often difficult, enjoy working there.

In the last three years I’ve seen Alan almost every time I’ve gone there. He was a regular at breakfast at the Dira Hotel, the journalist’s favourite Gaza haunt. Many a morning I sat with Alan and talked about Gaza’s ever-changing political landscape—which faction, which leader was up, which down. On more than one occasion we talked about the danger of kidnapping. Alan’s attitude, and mine, was usually to treat the phenomenon as an unfortunate inconvenience, as a potential danger, but something that was becoming a fact of life there. Both of us saw Gaza as an intriguing, tragic place, where for the most part we were met with generosity and openness from people who, given their circumstances, might have been expected to be hostile.

I am no stranger to kidnapping. I was with CNN producer Riyadh Ali when we were stopped by gunmen around the corner from our bureau. At the time I thought it was just another run-in with one of the many Palestinian security services. Something that would involve a lot of talk, a bit of shouting, and would end with each going his own way. This time it was different. A car pulled in front of us, stopped, and several armed men—all in their twenties, none masked—got out and, without any regard for whom might be watching, came up to the taxi. Riyadh was in the front seat, I was in the back with Cairo camerawoman Mary Rogers. One of the men came up to my window, stuck a pistol in my face and calmly but firmly asked, “which one of you is Riyadh Ali?” Before I could even open my mouth, Riyadh said “I am Riyadh.”

The man with the pistol went around to Riyadh’s side, opened the door and told him to get out. Riyadh did as he was told, was led to the car, a white Peugeot 504, got inside and was gone. I was completely dumbstruck. The entire operation didn’t last more than 40 seconds.

And then they were gone. After three seconds, I recovered and called our Jerusalem bureau. Michal Zippori, one of CNN Jerusalem’s most experienced staff members, answered the phone. “Riyadh’s been kidnapped,” I told her. She gasped. I quickly explained what had happened. Within minutes alarms bells were going off in Jerusalem, at CNN headquarters in Atlanta, and in lots of other places. Bad news always spreads fast. Within minutes, it was picked up by the news agencies, Jezira, etc. etc. My phone started to ring, and for the next few hours I had little time to do anything but explain to everyone who called what had happened.

We went back to our Gaza bureau—and stayed there all night, speaking on the phone and in person to all sorts of people—including some very shady types—trying to find out who might be holding Riyadh, where and why. I called Riyadh’s cell phone more than a hundred times in the vain hope that he would answer, but the phone was off.

By the following afternoon, we were getting indications that Riyadh would shortly be released. This was September 2004, a time when kidnappings in Gaza were rare. Alas, they’ve become so common in Gaza that they don’t have the same impact as they used to. Since then there have been at least two dozen such incidents. My friend Lorenzo Cremonesi, correspondent for the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, was also kidnapped, if only for a few hours. In his case it meant sitting for several hours in a house in Deir Al-Balah, a town in central Gaza, taking notes as his abductors went through a long list of grievances against the Palestinian Authority. When I spoke to Lorenzo after he was released, he seemed surprised that anyone even noticed he had been taken.

In Riyadh’s case, his captivity was far less mundane. He was tied to a chair and blindfolded most of the time 24 hours he was held. His captors interrogated him for hours. It was a traumatic experience.

I am hoping Alan emerges from this nightmare without too many psychological scars. He is a very easy-going, soft-spoken, good-humoured, amiable person, someone who takes his job seriously and takes the time to listen to every point of view. If anyone is well-equipped to endure, it’s Alan.

Despite the dangers, thankfully everyone who has been kidnapped has, eventually, been released. The longest time in captivity was for two journalists for the American network Fox, which was two weeks.

My fingers are crossed that all Gaza kidnappings will end the same way. Because I’ve covered another kidnapping that didn’t. I was in Kandahar, Afghanistan in January 2002 when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped in Karachi, Pakistan. I rushed with the CNN crew to Karachi, and spent several weeks there, waiting, hoping, that Pearl would soon be released, following up every possible lead. Shortly after I arrived in Karachi I interviewed his wife, Marianne, who was six-months pregnant at the time. Despite the agony of the experience, she was composed, and hopeful he would soon be released, and the signals we received, though mixed, hinted he would, possibly, be freed, and soon. But that kidnapping did not end happily.

Gaza is a small, cramped and crowded place where it’s hard to keep a secret from anyone, where everybody knows everybody. Most Gazans are aghast every time a kidnapping takes place, and few will make excuses for the kidnappers. Kidnapping goes completely contrary to traditional Arab values of generosity and kindness to strangers. But it’s become a fact of life. In recent trips, my Gazan friends have insisted, they say out of courtesy but I’ve always suspected it’s really out of concern, that they accompany me back to my hotel after work or after a get-together.

Palestinian journalists in Gaza and the West Bank have held a variety of protests since Alan was abducted, calling for his immediate release, because the fact is that most Palestinians are just as concerned, and disturbed, by the spate of kidnappings as I and other journalists who cover Gaza are.

-- From Ben Wedeman, CNN International Correspondent
Friday, March 16, 2007
Talking Turkey

Me with businessman Ferit Sahenk

I had been to the beautiful city of Istanbul before. So I was looking forward to spending 24 hours in the Turkish capital Ankara to meet some of the country’s up and coming entrepreneurs. The people were great. The city reminded of Albany, New York. Sadly, that's not a good thing. Ankara is a typical capital full of traffic and anonymous government buildings.

After a four-hour flight from London, and a two-hour layover in Istanbul, we then endured a long taxi journey from the Ankara airport to a "conference-type" hotel which meant it was in the middle of nowhere. The hotel staff, however, was great and told us upon arriving that we had been upgraded to suites.

The week only got better from there. We soon flew back to Istanbul.

I learned on my last trip that every interview in Turkey starts with the host offering you tea and a long chat. You have to build that into every shoot. It's not hard to do that when you are shown so much hospitality. My producer, cameraman and I just sat in the office of one of Turkey's rising business stars. You don't want to start setting up the lights and tripod until the ritual is complete. I also think you learn a lot more this way and can spend less time and tape when you have a good idea where your subject stands.

The other reality in Turkey is that the boss is the boss, and there are many people standing around ready to help when you are with him. These people are usually men wearing suits and ties (just like all the taxi drivers.) The only problem is, they are too eager to help. At each location we went during the week, someone was trying to carry the camera or pick up the tripod. It annoyed my cameraman and they kept getting in the shots. They are expected to shadow the boss wherever he goes. That's a problem when you are trying to film him walking with me or on his own.

We were in Turkey to see what the business community can do to convince Europe that this Muslim nation should join the EU. The clear message from everyone is that business is already closely tied to Europe and the politicians will follow. There is so much confidence here that the EU will one day practically beg Turkey to join.

Much of that confidence was shared with us over drinks and dinner at Istanbul's flashy Ulus 29 restaurant. Yes, more food, more good company and more evidence that Turkey is very Western. We talked football, tourism, Italian food. But religion is barely talked about, despite there being mosque nearly on every corner.

One morning we were told to meet one of Turkey’s richest men at a breakfast spot. We arrived, 45 minutes before he did, to find ourselves in the finest restaurant I have ever seen. It was along the banks of the Bosporus and it became clear after a while that the company must have booked the entire place. There were no other patrons. The CEO arrived, complete with security and plenty of people to carry the tripod, and we spent the time eating wonderful eggs, drinking good coffee and talking Turkey.

Then, we were whisked off in his secure VW van to the headquarters. I could not help noticing that wherever we went, people stood when he walked by. In many way Turkey is pushing to be part of Europe, but there are customs that most of Europe has moved beyond.

Turks also like to present gifts to their guests. I can't think of another country where I was given gifts (Turkish Delight of course) after each interview.

I often say you can't have a bad meal in Turkey. You also can’t find rude people. May all of Europe learn from the people who want to be tied closer to Europe but not lose their important links to the East.

Click here to see my report

-- From Jim Boulden, CNN International Producer/Correspondent
Tuesday, March 13, 2007
Paws for thought

Crufts winner Araki Fabulous Willy

Well, it was a first for me. Over the years I've interviewed countless newsmakers and celebrities. One of the great things about my job is that I get to meet some very high profile personalities. A few weeks ago it was Oscar winner Helen Mirren. And last week Peter Hain, the UK's Secretary of State for Northern Ireland. Until today though I’d never been called upon to interview a dog, albeit a very special one.

Araki Fabulous Willy is a six-year-old Tibetan Terrier who beat 25,000 other canines to win the prestigious "Best in Show" award at the 116th annual Crufts show.

The British are potty when it comes to dogs. Nearly 150,000 of them made their way to the huge National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham for the four-day event and millions more watched the dog world's answer to the Oscars on TV.

But I have to admit that I don’t really share the passion ... at least not for show dogs. There's something about all those odd looking breeds, fluffed and manicured, flouncing around the arena with their handlers that makes me uncomfortable. Give me a real dog any day –- one that will chase sticks, play rough and tumble with the kids and isn't afraid to get wet.

Willy is a top dog. A pampered pooch who has made a career out of posing for an adoring public. He's not then the sort of dog I'd warm to. Or so I thought.

It's always refreshing to find that someone in the public eye is actually quite "normal" and down to earth. I'd presumed that "Willy," as he’s known to his friends, would be the stereotypical demanding starlet. But he's really just a regular guy.

Okay, so he didn't say very much during our live tv "chat" ... he left all the talking to his co-owner Neil Smith. But I could tell from his relaxed demeanor that he's not had his head turned by fame, is happy to go with the flow and just isn't the sort to throw a celebrity tantrum. A bit like George Clooney, really.

Okay, so he left whisps of blonde hair all over the studio which stuck to my suit (how do I explain that to Mrs F?), but I liked him. And so did everyone else in the London newsroom. I can't remember a human guest ever having so many people wanting to "shake paws." I won't, however, be attempting to acquire my own Tibetan Terrier anytime soon. The two hours daily grooming required to keep that wonderful coat in good shape would drive me mad.

Click here to watch the full interview

-- From Adrian Finighan, CNN International Anchor
A wedding of no return
Weddings are always emotional. Even more so, if you are attending a Druze wedding in the Golan Heights. The bride, the parents, and all their guests seemed to alternate between bouts of singing and dancing one moment, then crying and shouting the next.

The Druze are an ancient religious community spread out across Lebanon, Syria and Israel. In the case of the Druze of the Golan, the community is separated along the lines of the 1967 war - between Syria and Israeli-occupied territory. On this occasion, Arwad, an Israeli-Druze bride was leaving her family to marry a Syrian-Druze. But because both countries are still technically in a state of war, Arwad will never be able to return home unless Syria and Israel sign a peace agreement.

The wedding takes place on the UN demilitarized zone between Syrian and Israeli forces. It's a bureaucratic nightmare to set up. Wedding permits from both Syria and Israel are needed. Then all the guests and family attending the ceremony need to be cleared for security. The whole process from start to finish takes more than a year. A very long engagement.

But a wedding like this is much more than the union of a husband and wife. It's also an opportunity for Druze to try and reunite with their families across the border - if only for a moment.

When it was time for Arwad to leave, the emotions were too much. Her family swarmed around her, hugging her and giving their last goodbyes. And the media only made things worse, pressing in to record the moment on camera, scribbling in notebooks. Photographers clambered on top of each other to get the crucial shot of the bride walking into the demilitarized zone. Israeli border police shouted at us to calm down, pulling down more than one cameraman who had managed to scale the fence.

Reporters were only allowed to go as far as the border gate while the wedding took place several hundred meters in at the midpoint of the buffer zone. Through the barbed wire, you could see the bride and groom finally together. All around them, people were laughing and hugging, some were crying. These are the lucky ones, guests who were cleared to attend, temporarily reunited with family that live in Syria.

But there were many more who were left behind. At the border fence they jumped up and down, waving to the relatives they could see but not hear or touch. Some called excitedly on their mobile phones. Others broke down in tears begging the Israeli border forces to let them through to see their family. Weddings like this happen only a few times a year. A handful managed to convince the Israeli authorities to let them through for just 5 minutes. Each time someone got through, they would run like mad into the arms of their families.

The whole ceremony lasts for just one hour. The toughest part comes at the end when UN and Red Cross officials step in to separate the families again. Only the bride is allowed to cross into Syria. And once she goes, she can't come back.

I'm not the kind of person who cries at weddings. But I did at this one.

Click here to watch my report

-- From Atika Shubert, CNN International Correspondent
Thursday, March 08, 2007
Reflections on a tragedy
We managed to get to the crash site less than eight hours after flight GA 200 crashed, and what a sight it was.

The charred but recognizable form of a jet airliner incongruously lying in a rice paddy-field numbed me for a second when I first saw it. There was a huge crowd of local residents surrounding it, watching as if something might happen. But the wreckage was still, lifeless and obscene. All around debris from the panicked evacuation: empty bottles of water, in flight magazines and the detritus of a flight that ended in sudden carnage. Towards the back of the plane, the two massive jet engines that had been ripped from the wings as the Boeing 737-400 plunged off the end of the runway. And the on the right side of the jet; two enormous wheels from the smashed landing gear.

After an initial pause to simply take in bizarre and awful scene in front of us, we were straight into a frantic rush to make our deadline. There was a report to compile and send, and then the main CNN International Asia programme needed me live impossibly soon. Some how we managed to get everything done in time. But then the rest of the network was soon on the phone: CNN US, CNN Pipeline, CNN Headline News, CNN Wires, CNN Radio,, all vying for a tailor-made report.

When the initial onslaught of demands was satisfied, there was time once again to reflect on what had happened. While the chorus of crickets, frogs and insects struck up the nocturnal sound of the tropics, we sat between live shots and simply looked and thought. The randomness of who survived and who died was particularly hard to fathom. Those awful images of people staggering away from the wreck were in all our minds as we packed up and left. We all fly almost every week and know a crash is a remote possibility. But seeing what it’s like up close made us all feel queasy. Several journalists were among the dead. It doesn’t take a great leap of imagination to think of us on the plane – and those stomach-churning final seconds as the jet slammed off the runway and burst into flames.

When we got back to our hotel that night, we met several members of the international press pack based in Jakarta. Their faces bruised with grief. They knew both the journalists and Australian Embassy staff who died, but somehow were still able to do their job with diligence and professionalism, telling the world of the horror of flight GA 200.

-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
Racing to the crash scene

The aftermath of the crash

We'd just touched down when the news came through. My producer got an SMS as we were just leaving our plane that an identical jet had just crashed on landing in Java. We'd just arrived on neighbouring Sumatra to cover an earthquake: The dilemma lasted a moment -- which story took priority? The next flight back to Jakarta was the very same plane that had just landed with us aboard. It was leaving in 30 minutes. So a sudden mad rush ensued, unloading our 27 bags from the plane, only to reload them minutes later as we desperately tried to buy our way back aboard. Three hundred bucks and a lot of sweat later we were back in our seats, heading back the route we'd just come, wondering if the day could get any more crazy.

A quick change of planes in Jakarta and then into to Solo. It was a wild landing -- the plane veering off course and me thinking surely lightning couldn't strike twice, could it? We made it, and we're now speeding through the Javanese countryside, dodging water buffalo and motorbikes, heading to the crash site, and hoping we make it before sundown. And amid all this rush sweat and adrelanine, a sombre reflection: We knew some of the journalists aboard Flight GA200, some now with horrendous burns, recovering in hospital. Makes you think, doesn't it ...

-- From Dan Rivers, CNN International Correspondent
Tuesday, March 06, 2007
Jungle adventures in Cameroon

A forest elephant taught us all a lesson

What do you do if you come across a gorilla in the jungle?

This was a question we have asked our guides many times. The answer? Bow down to show you mean no harm. A bit like greeting in Japan.

As a cameraman with CNN, I have filmed armed guerillas in their jungle hideout, but this is the first time I have attempted to film gorillas in their jungle habitat. I am in Cameroon filming with Richard Quest on an environmental story about deforestation and its impact on the wildlife, and the Pygmy tribes who live in the jungle.

We have been in the heart of the Congo Basin, one of the last refuges for the lowland gorilla, which is becoming increasingly endangered. We heard three gorillas giving warning calls on our drive in, and we hoped to be able to film one during our stay. After several guided treks though the jungle, we saw a chimpanzee and some monkeys, but not one of these huge beasts, which can be quite aggressive if taken by surprise and as strong as several men.

So what to do should a gorilla rush towards us beating its chest?

Our guides told us we should get down on the ground and let him know he is the boss -– or run!

All well and good, but what about getting the pictures? Would I be able to keep calm, and importantly, keep filming if a gorilla came running towards me? I like to think I would, but a forest elephant taught us all a lesson the other night. While filming with infrared camera equipment, the elephant turned and charged. I left the camera running and fled. Luckily the elephant stopped its charge right in front of the camera, saving the expensive equipment, and making a rather good sequence.

Unfortunately, in our escape the producer Deborah and I had a collision. She now has grazed knees and a black eye. A little frustrated, we had to leave without getting the gorilla pictures we so really wanted. Driving out on a jungle track, I saw something large and grey ahead. We stopped, and there enjoying the morning sun was a huge male silverback gorilla. I started filming and got a very good shot of him looking towards us, and then slowly walking into the forest. A truly magnificent sight. We got out of the jeep and bravely followed, remembering all the advice, but he had disappeared out of sight into the Cameroon rain forest.

From CNN cameraman Neil Bennett.
Monday, March 05, 2007
Flying into the record books

Jamiroquai hosts the gig in the sky

Cruising at an altitude of 35,000 feet and the inflight entertainment onboard the Boeing 757 was of a very different kind. It was loud, bright … and live.

In 15F I had a great view of not a flight attendant standing in the aisle showing us how to inflate a life jacket, but Jay Kay from Jamiroquai belting out "feels just like it should" into a microphone.

Having taken out the first three rows of economy seats by the exit, there was just enough space for the rest of the band -- a full drum kit, keyboard, two guitarists and a percussionist. The three backing singers unfortunately had to stand behind the curtain in business class.

It was strange. One hundred and fifty-seven of us were on a plane but it didn’t feel like it at all.

The overhead cabins remained open with bright flashing disco lights and two loud speakers were wedged between the floor and the ceiling.

The only time we were reminded that we were on a plane flying from Munich to Athens was a bit of turbulence in between Jay Kay’s signature moves!

With chair dancing in full swing and photographers taking it in turn to crawl down the aisle to the front, the world record for the "highest gig ever" was broken -– beating the piano and flute performance on top of Mount Everest.

The Sony Ericsson "gig in the sky" event also broke five more world records: The fastest ever gig; the highest concert recording, the fastest concert recording, the highest concert on an aircraft and fastest concert on an aircraft.

The Guiness Book of Records adjudicator was onboard who confirmed the six new records, presenting the certificate to Jamiroquai.

The only thing left to do was to land and celebrate. And we did -- as soon as we stepped off the plane.

As we walked up the jetway, we approached a blanket of smoke.

Boarding gate A38 of Athens International Airport had been converted into a concert venue with a free bar and food where 500 competition winners awaited Jamiroquai to hit the stage.

It was an exciting event to be a part of, experiencing a one-off gig in the sky. And no need to scoff at the unnecessary carbon emissions emitted to break a record -- the carbon footprints were offset for every single passenger onboard, making it the first carbon-neutral world record. Oh … so that makes it seven world records, not six!

-- From Ayesha Durgahee, CNN Associate Producer
Friday, March 02, 2007
Incestuous Love

Patrick and Susan are fighting to change the law

Should incestuous relationships be illegal?
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Patrick is looking at me, clenching his fist, his body shaking, he’s saying nothing. Susan isn’t saying anything either and neither am I. Silence can be so agonizing and there’s so much tension in the air you could almost cut it with a knife. There we are just staring at each other.

It was a difficult interview for a story that couldn’t be more controversial.

Patrick and Susan are a couple and have four children. They are also brother and sister and that makes their relationship illegal under German law. Patrick and Susan didn’t even know of each other’s existence until Patrick was over 20 years old and Susan was in her teens. After their mother died, they lived together and eventually fell in love.

“We just want to lead a normal life,” Patrick tells me, when he finally does manage to speak during the interview. He and Susan appear to be afraid of the camera. I can’t blame them. We’ve come into their home, are shining powerful lights in their faces and asking them to put their whole lives out in the open for us. Lives that have been as tough as anyone could imagine.

“People harass us all the time and call us the incest couple. They have no idea who we really are or how it all happened,” Patrick says, and then he goes on to speak about the legal ordeal he’s been put through. He’s been to jail because of the relationship with his sister; and three of their four children have been taken away from them by German Youth Welfare Services. Now Patrick wants to take the struggle to get the relationship legalized to the highest German court.

Many other European countries lifted bans on incestuous love long ago, and there are interesting arguments on both sides of the equation. Those who feel the ban should be kept in place say incestuous relationships are far more likely to bring forth children with birth defects than relationships between people that are not siblings. But opponents of the ban say it is a violation of couple’s rights to sexual freedom.

Patrick and Susan don’t care about all the politics, they say.

“We really love each other a lot, and we never want to be without each other again. We’re living like a small happy family,” Patrick says. To them, in the end, that’s what it comes down to: He needs her, and she needs him…nothing more.

If Germany’s highest court decides not to take the case, Patrick will go to jail again.

Click here to watch my report

From Frederik Pleitgen, CNN Berlin

Hear from CNN reporters across the globe. "In the Field" is a unique blog that will let you share the thoughts and observations of CNN's award-winning international journalists from their far-flung bureaus or on assignment. Whether it's from conflict zone, a summit gathering, or the path least traveled, "In the Field" gives you a personal, front row seat to CNN's global newsgathering team.
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